Santiago: DAP recipients must return funds

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SENATOR Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Wednesday that lawmakers who benefited from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration must return the money.

"Ang tawag doon, konting delicadeza. No less than the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Therefore, we consider DAP as a stolen money. That is the argument of stupidity to say that they are innocent. Ignorance does not excuse anyone lalo pa kapag legislator ka," Santiago said.

Santiago said she can hardly understand why some senators like Senate President Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, as well as her known nemesis, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who are all lawyers, still refuse to recognize that something illegal happened when they accepted DAP offered to them by Malacanang.

Santiago said the senators cannot blame President Benigno Aquino III on the DAP, saying, "Obedience to a superior officer is a choice and never an excuse."

"They should know the consequence of their actions. They have to stand on the consequences of their decision especially after the SC declared DAP unconstitutional. President Aquino cannot force them if they do not want to accept DAP. They should accept their own authority. DAP is a big mess," the lawmaker said.

Santiago also hit President Aquino for using DAP to oust former Chief Justice Renato Corona from his post.

"If it is bribery, then definitely, it an impeachable move," said Santiago, who is a former trial court judge.

The President, she said, has opened himself to the possibility of being impeached.

"President Benigno Aquino III can be impeached for approving the creation and use of the DAP funds but we have to acknowledged that his allies have the numbers to fend off any bid," she said.

The President, Santiago said, "can use extra money but only if it constitute savings and use it for other purpose or if it is appropriated by Congress in passing the budget."

In the case of DAP, Santiago said the procedures were not followed. "And that is not the way the rule of law works."

The senator said Aquino can be impeached, "but I do not know who will initiate the move for impeachment or who will attempt. Impeachment is a political move and a political decision. I doubt if they can impeach the President," she said.

Santiago said that since it is Budget Secretary Florencio Abad who made the recommendations to the Chief Executive, "then he should be held answerable."

"The budget Secretary was in good faith when he made such recommendation to the President. Now that it has been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Then Secretary Abad should have to go. They have to follow the doctrine. They have to recognize the SC ruling," she said.

Santiago said Abad must immediately resign over the DAP issue because he is the most responsible person in the DAP issue.

"Heads must roll. Secretary Abad must admit that he made a mistake. He must resign right away," Santiago said.

Santiago said Abad can be held criminally and administratively liable.

"I hope he will resign right away. Because it will show to the public that you are contrite," Santiago said.

She maintained that the high court's ruling demanded accountability.

"Pareho-pareho lang naman kami as ordinary citizens, kasi no less than the Supreme Court has said, 'Mali,' so dapat may pananagutan tayo," said Santiago.

She also called on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice to review the case and file the necessary charges against those who accepted DAP as a bribe, as she maintained that these legislators clearly violated the constitution.

"Technical malversation and a civil case can be filed against them," she said.

At the same time, she warned that President Aquino could be courting public outrage if he does not sack Abad, even as she took issue with the Supreme Court's failure to say who should be accountable for DAP.

"You have to point at least to somebody and definitely to the Department of Budget and Management," she said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Drilon defended his allies, President Aquino and Abad, amid political attacks hurled against them after the Supreme Court declared some parts of DAP unconstitutional.

Drilon, who is member of the ruling Liberal Party, said the President, with the help of Abad, has implemented a number of economic reforms and anti-corruption measures, which were not possible in previous administrations.

These reform measures, made possible under the leadership of President Aquino, resulted in improved investor confidence and an attractive business climate, which were translated into more job and education opportunities, improved health and basic social services and more infrastructure projects, the senate chief explained.

It was only directly due to Aquino and Abad's efforts that the country now enjoys its highest credit rating despite the damages left by numerous calamities, Drilon further said.

Drilon added that it is under the initiative of Abad that genuine reforms towards a more open and transparent national budgetary process and improved procurement procedures have been effectively implemented.

Notwithstanding the SC's ruling, the DAP was fully used to improve the economy, and was not used as a mechanism for corruption or abuse, he said.

"Finally, the SC ruling on the DAP does not take away the achievements made by the Aquino administration especially in terms of uplifting the economy, improving transparency and accountability, and fighting corruption in government," Drilon maintained.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, for his part, asked the public on Wednesday to rally behind President Aquino amid impeachment calls by some sectors following the Supreme Court decision on DAP.

"President Aquino is our leader and has been duly elected by our people. He has the people's mandate and we should continue supporting him as our President," he said in a statement.

Binay also called for sobriety and an end to partisanship and speculation on the extent of liabilities of government officials.

He encouraged everybody to accept and respect the SC ruling and "let the effects take its legal course and consequence and avoid speculation."

Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon said they have started drafting an impeachment complaint against Aquino and malversation raps against Budget Secretary Abad for "inventing and abusing DAP."

Ridon said the ruling on DAP is a "solid ground" for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, both of which are impeachable offenses.

Any attempt on impeaching Aquino, however, will not likely prosper since administration allies control Congress.

"No he (Aquino) cannot be impeached. The impeachment will get no votes at the House (of Representatives)," House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said in a text message to reporters.

Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone said Aquino allies in the majority bloc will block any attempt to impeach the President.

"The planned impeachment case against President based on SC DAP ruling is premature, baseless and will not hold water. In the first place, DAP contributed a lot to the country's economic growth and funded viable and productive programs of the government," he said.

In MalacaƱang, Aquino's spokesperson Edwin Lacierda rejected calls for the President and Abad to be held accountable for implementing the DAP, which the SC said violated Congress' power over the national budget.

Lacierda said the DAP had served its purpose of hastening the delivery of public services and boosting the economy saddled by slow government spending in 2011.

University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Harry Roque noted that the government cannot claim good faith for its unconstitutional act.

"The declaration of unconstitutionality is therefore not enough. Aside from criminal prosecution for technical malversation, heads must roll for the illegal expenditures as is required under Section 43, Chapter 5, Book IV of the Administrative Code of 1987," he said.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Vicente Joyas agreed with Roque, saying Aquino committed an impeachable offense due to technical malversation.

"You cannot disburse any fund out of the national treasury without the authority of Congress. And that (project) must be included in the General Appropriations Act," he said in a phone interview.

Technical malversation is the use of a public fund or property for any public use other than for which such fund or property were appropriated by law. It is punishable by a jail term ranging from six months to two years and four months and a fine.

Meanwhile, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is planning to create a panel of field investigators who will look into the DAP transactions to see if any offense has been committed by involved public officials.

"In light of the Supreme Court's Decision on the DAP case, we are initiating an investigation into the matter," Morales said in a statement. (Camille P. Balagtas/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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